Start of war heightens vigilance in Alaska

Posted: Thursday, March 20, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The start of the war against Iraq has heightened vigilance by Alaska homeland security officials, who said they've been preparing for possible terrorism attacks since Sept. 12, 2001.

''Actually, right now what we are doing is what we've been doing,'' said Major Mike Haller, a spokesman for the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. ''I would say we're doing it with perhaps a heightened effort. We're certainly sensitive to the fact that we've engaged the enemy.''

While a national call for heightened security has led to lockdowns of some facilities in Texas and armed airport patrols in Massachusetts, none of those measures has been taken in Alaska.

''We have no indication that Alaska is singled out or that facilities in Alaska have been singled out to a greater extent that anywhere else,'' said Wayne Rush, the state's Homeland Security coordinator. ''Our recommendation is people go about their daily lives.''

Rush does suggest, however, that families review their disaster plans, including having ways for family members to communicate if a disaster, natural or manmade, strikes. Another step is to have enough supplies stockpiled to be self-sufficient for up to seven days.

''The terrorist attack doesn't have to happen in Alaska for it to have a significant effect on us,'' Rush said. ''Sept. 11 proved that.''

In the Gaslight Lounge in downtown Anchorage, a handful of folks sipped drinks and watched the beginning of war on two TV screens above the bar.

''I don't like war; no one does, except for that guy (Saddam) over there,'' said Frank Perry. ''But if we're going to do it, let's get over there and get it done quick and get it over with.''

Standing next to Perry, Marcia Petersen agreed. She has a nephew in the Army and a brother who's a civilian Army worker supervising a tank maintenance crew already in the Middle East. Her son graduates from Marine computer school at the end of the month.

She recalled two years ago when her 10-year-old daughter was flying across the country to visit Petersen's parents. Then the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks occurred. Now her daughter is afraid to fly.

''I mean, who feels safe anymore anyway,'' Petersen said. ''Sure, I'm a little worried, We've lost that freedom to feel safe. That's pretty sad.

''But, who knows. Maybe, if this gets done, we can begin to feel secure again. Maybe...''

The national Office of Homeland Security has declared the security threat as Code Orange. The first time Code Orange was raised it coincided with the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. This time it was called for as the United States nears war with Iraq.

Only Code Red is higher than orange. Code Red would be enacted only if a terrorist attack has occurred or is imminent on a specific target.

Under Code Orange, members of the U.S. Coast Guard will be pulling double duty as they step up regular patrols and put armed sea marshals onboard many of the cargo ships and tankers that call on Alaska ports.

But, for the most part, officials in Southcentral are expecting minimal disruption in travel or commerce.

All traffic entering Anchorage's international airport is subject to being stopped and searched, said Corky Caldwell, the airport's deputy director of operations. Patrols of the airport's perimeter also have increased, as have the number of bomb-sniffing dogs, he said.

Haller said state and federal agencies completed a major homeland security training exercise last week at the trans-Alaska oil pipeline terminal in Valdez.

Alaska State Troopers are warning people to be more vigilant, but troopers don't have the resources to increase their presence on the streets. They are more concerned with threats from U.S. citizens who might carry out their own terrorist act rather than threats from other countries.

''As long as there's no specific threat identified, it's pretty much business as usual for Alaska law enforcement, especially in the Interior,'' said Alaska State Trooper Capt. Greg Tanner, commander of the Fairbanks-headquartered detachment.

The Transportation Security Administration at Fairbanks International Airport also said so far nothing has changed.

''Right now everything is the same until we get instructions otherwise,'' said Maggie Rhodes, who oversees security in airports in two-thirds of Alaska, including Fairbanks.

Rhodes said new security measures would depend on what type of threat surfaces.

When an orange threat level was declared Feb. 8, airport officials had to check all vehicles entering the short-term parking area as well as random checks of vehicles going into the pick-up and drop-off area.

That time, the increased level was called because of the threat of terrorists car bombings occurring around the end of a Muslim religious period.

Meanwhile, like other military installations, Fort Wainwright and Eielson Air Force Base have their own system for level of security, which hasn't changed from Force Protection Bravo out of Alpha through Delta despite the increased alert in the civilian sector. It has been higher for some time.

Eielson Air Force Base spokeswoman Maj. Valerie Trefts said there won't be a noticeable change for base access, which has been restricted for some time.

Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. also declined to comment on specific security measures.

For more information regarding threat levels or readiness check the Web site

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